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September 13, 2005 11:27 pm

China to produce ‘moral’ internet games

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China’s government is teaming up with a Nasdaq-listed entertainment company to produce patriotic internet games featuring national heroes such as a celebrated eunuch admiral and a communist soldier so selfless he volunteered to wash his comrades’ socks.

The games are part of a broad effort by Beijing to promote nationalist feeling and “moral education” among a youth increasingly exposed to entertainment and computer games with values seen as deeply suspect by culture commissars.

The series, dubbed the “Register of Chinese Heroes”, is being developed by US-listed Shanda Interactive Entertainment in what appears an attempt to burnish its image following accusations that its hugely-popular online games encourage sloth, truancy and crime.

“In the past, it’s been common in the industry to think that games developers must force themselves into the shoes of the players, however big or small,” said Shang Hui, a Shanda product manager.

“Players have not been properly guided, and there has been a lack of social responsibility,” Mr Shang said.

Among the heroes to be featured in the games is Zheng He, a 15th century imperial eunuch who conducted a series of dramatic voyages around the Indian Ocean.

Zheng’s game is expected to teach players “to feel the cultural importance of promoting exchanges between China and foreign countries” as well as how to read a chart and the principles of navigation.

Also featured is Lei Feng, a soldier held up by leader Mao Zedong as a model because of his slavish devotion to communist ideals and his sense of selfless self-sacrifice.

In Lei’s game, players will be able to practice grenade-throwing, conduct storm rescues and “learn the pleasure of helping other people”.

However, Shanda and the government and party officials backing the series have given few hints as to how the games will work or how they might attract an audience in an already over-crowded market.

Production values appear likely to be much lower than those of Shanda’s commercial online role-playing games, which feature less ideological fantasy lands full of buxom heroines and fearsome monsters.

Youthful potential players may also balk at the tests likely to be included in the patriotic games.

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